The Dream That Changed My Life

Jan 5, 2021 / The Twelve Mysteries / carl jung / dream analysis

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Pacifica. cyanotype on paper, 2014. © Jonah Calinawan

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Could a dream foretell the future?

If you asked me a year ago, I would have said, “No, it can’t. That’s crazy.” But I had a dream on August 6, 2020, that changed my life. It’s hyperbolic but true!

I quit my 25-year accounting career in October 2019 to become a full-time artist. I was finally going to devote more time to art. But then that pesky COVID pandemic invaded the world, and like everyone, I tried to make the best of it. I started shooting The Unseen photo project, writing on my blog, and selling cyanotype prints through my online store. I didn’t know where any of these would lead, but I was willing to find out. Life had other plans, however.

In this article, I show how I analyze my dream using Jungian dream analysis so you can interpret your dreams too. If you pay attention, your dreams may be telling you something about your future!

But first, the dream.

The Guns in the Basement Dream

“I am not going back to school!”

A guy I’ve never seen before takes me hostage in the basement of a house. He’s young, and he has a gun.

“No matter what you do, you will have to pay at least one semester,” I say calmly.

“No, I’m not,” as he raises the gun at me.

I realize at that moment that I also have a gun. It’s on the ottoman that I’m sitting on, but if I reach for it, he will surely shoot me.

Suddenly, to my left, I see three boys playing with a gun. For their safety, I take the gun from them. I examine it and realize it’s made of wood.

I ask, “Whose gun is this?”

I don’t get shot.

I wake up.

How To Analyze A Dream

Dream analysis has five steps, according to Robert Johnson’s Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth (affiliate link). This book is based on Carl Jung’s dream analysis methods. I recommend it as a reference because it is more accessible and contemporary than Jung’s writings, especially if you are analyzing dreams by yourself without an analyst’s help.

      1.  Write the Dream in Detail
      2.  Make Associations
      3.  Connect Dream Images to What’s Happening Internally
      4.  Interpret the Dream
      5.  Do a Ritual to Make the Dream Concrete

Step 1 Write the Dream in Detail

Whenever I have a dream, I immediately write it down in my journal that sits by my bed. Writing it down is essential because no matter how vivid that dream is, the dream images will disappear within a few seconds after you wake up. This has happened every time I was sure I wouldn’t forget, and then I did, and then I kicked myself afterward. So now, I write everything down before I get out of bed. In my experience, it’s enough to jot down keywords and the general plot. The dream images then come back when I analyze the dream later on.

Step 2 Make Associations

During breakfast, I write the dream in more detail. I focus on each dream scene or image and write down any associations that come to mind.

  • The guy with the gun: a part of me that’s threatened, mad, uncooperative, hostage taker, terrorist
  • The gun on the ottoman: shoot, ability to kill, ability to stop something, strength, power
  • Three boys playing with the gun: could represent topics, areas of my life, philosophies, and ideas; undeveloped and therefore “young” aspects of myself
  • Fake gun: illusion, has no power, no threat, no danger
  • Wood gun: inexplicably reminds me of wood crosses in Filipino homes
  • School: something important, and you have to pay tuition?
  • The basement of the house: my mind, my life, my unconscious

In my experience, the following rules of thumb help in dream associations:

  • All the dream characters are aspects of yourself. Despite the characters looking like your father, mother, unknown guy, three boys, etc., they are only symbols or stand-ins of things within you. In other words, those people are being used by your unconscious as symbols to say something about what is going on within you. The unconscious uses images to communicate. It has nothing to do with the actual people.
  • Carl Jung says that there is no fixed meaning to dream symbols. Instead, interpret the dream using the person’s perspectives, including emotional, philosophical, and religious. Thus, dream associations do not have to be logical. For example, it makes no sense that the gun reminded me of crosses. A Freudian dream interpretation suggests guns are phallic—indicating some sexual wish-fulfillment idea. Disregard popular and straightforward interpretations. Choose interpretations that “click” and resonate. As Jung reminds us, even a psychotherapist analyst can’t tell the dreamer what something means. The patient must agree to the interpretation.

Step 3 & 4: Connect & Interpret the Dream Holistically

After writing down all the associations, I step back and consider the entire dream.

The dream indicates an inner conflict—philosophies and ideas threatening, fighting, and killing each other.

What were these philosophies?

The wood guns provided a clue. In the Philippines where I grew up, a wooden crucifix graced many Filipino living rooms. Inexplicably, the wood guns in the dream reminded me of these wooden crosses. Interestingly enough, my family never had one of these crucifixes, probably because we were Protestant and not Catholic.

Was the dream telling me that the guns and threats of violence were illusions? Was the dream saying that I shouldn’t worry about imagined consequences of delving into spirituality (as symbolized by the cross)? I think so. My art and writing always had spiritual, mythological, and religious undertones, which I ignored out of fear of the ramifications. The dream addressed this unspoken fear head-on: “Don’t worry about it. Nothing will hurt you.”

But what about this mention of school? I quit my accounting job to become a full-time artist. That was my plan. I didn’t understand that part of the dream and left it unresolved.

Step 5: Perform a Ritual to Make the Dream Concrete

I have a simple ritual to honor a dream (in Jung’s term, “assimilate” the dream). I light a candle and thank the dream for the advice. The ritual takes less than 30 seconds, and then I go about my day.

What Happened Next Was Mystifying

After analyzing the dream, I read the news, skimmed blog posts in my Feedly RSS reader, checked social media, and sat down in my studio.

Several hours later, as I was eating lunch, I had an epiphany. One of the Feedly blog posts I read that morning impressed me so much that I became curious about the author. I never read blogger bios, but I clicked on this one, and it said:

Bradley Olson

Ph.D. in Cultural Mythology

“What’s that?” I said to myself. Curious, I searched for “Ph.D. in Cultural Mythology,” and the first hit was:

search result showing Pacifica PhD in Mythology

In that instant, I knew what my dream was telling me.

Go to Pacifica.

Seriously. Did You Go Back to School Because of a Dream?

Yes, that’s what happened. I had a dream the morning of August 6, 2020, that mentioned going back to school. I had no idea what it meant.

That same morning, a random blog post led me to Pacifica Graduate Institute. I had never heard of Pacifica. I had no plans of becoming an academic. And yet, in that instant, I knew that’s what the dream was saying. The dream even anticipated my reaction:

“I’m not going back to school!”

“No matter what you do, you will have to pay at least one semester,” the dream says calmly.

“No, I’m not.”

I fought this dream interpretation for several weeks afterward. I tried to dismiss it. I convinced myself that I could learn spirituality, mythology, and religion on my own, through a private tutor, or a certificate program. These alternatives were cheaper. The cost of grad school, or post-secondary school for that matter, is insane!

In the end, there was no choice. Pacifica’s M.A./PH.D program combines mythology, art & literature, and depth psychology. No other program in the world comes close to it as far as I’m concerned.

Even six months later, I still find the sequence of events fascinating. It’s like synchronicity and mystery all rolled into one. There’s more. The blog post that showed up on my Feedly account should not have been there as it was written in 2016! A technical glitch (or inadvertent website update) caused the article to show up as a “new blog post” on my Feedly blog feed that very morning. Of all the mornings that it could have happened, it happened the morning of my dream!

And the dream was right about one thing as well. “No matter what you do, you will have to pay at least one semester.” It only took half a semester for me to admit that enrolling in the program was the right decision. I don’t understand why it’s right, but I know that it is. The dream just had to get me through the door, and the rest took care of itself.

An Earlier Dream Becomes Clear

I wrote about an earlier dream in How to Analyze a Dream Using Jungian Dream Analysis. That dream featured three chairs representing my life: photography, writing, and something undefined. At the time, I didn’t know what that third chair represented. Now it’s clear. It was an academic chair.

That is how I ended up going back to school and becoming a graduate student. I don’t know how this degree will combine with my art and writing, but I believe it will make sense in the future.

“Dreams Are Anticipatory”

Jung wrote that dreams may be forward-looking and anticipatory. I think his idea is true, as my experience shows.

So, have I convinced you that dreams could foretell the future?

Here’s another thought: creating art could also be anticipatory. In 2014, as I was finishing my MFA, I created the image that opened this article. I never had a title for it as nothing seemed to fit—until now. Pacifica has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

Write down your dreams. Analyze it in your journal. Or make art. Dreams and art may show you your future.

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